How Donald Passwaters Grew a Family-Run Supplement Business


Earth’s Creation has been in business for well over 20 years, but the journey got off to a bumpy start. Donald Passwaters’s partners gave up during the business’s first year, but Donald continued moving forward, thanks to his belief in the business.

In this interview, Donald shares how the business turned the corner and continued to grow.

👇 Key Takeaways

  • Donald’s 3 original partners all left after a few months of slow growth, but he stuck with it
  • Donald took side jobs to make ends meet while growing the business
  • Today, EC Nutrition is a family-run business
  • International trade shows have been crucial for growing the business
  • EC Nutrition focuses on innovation to create unique products with higher margins

Overview

Business Name: EC Nutrition
Website URL: https://ecnutritionusa.com/
Founder: Donald Passwaters
Business Location: South Carolina, USA
Year Started: 2000
Number of Employees/Contractors/Freelancers: 55

Tell us about yourself and your business.

My name is Donald Passwaters, and I hail from Miami, Florida. My journey in the supplement manufacturing industry began during my high school years at FDC. Initially, I worked in the warehouse, but over the span of 20 years, I transitioned through various roles in sales, purchasing, and management within the company. Unfortunately, my tenure at FDC concluded due to downsizing.

Subsequently, I, along with two partners, founded Earth’s Creation, a supplement brand. With Earth’s Creation, we not only began manufacturing our own products but also provided private label services.

Years later, we established EC Nutrition as the private label division specifically catering to the supplement market. EC Nutrition private labels liquid supplements, gummies, vitamins, and more. Our clientele includes consumers, distributors, and importers both domestically and globally.

EC Nutrition Website

How does your business make money?

EC Nutrition generates revenue primarily through its offerings of private label and OEM services to other brands or retailers, manufacturing their products at high volumes. We target customers through various channels, such as attending trade shows, traveling overseas, and utilizing SEO strategies to generate leads online.

Our business model is diversified. Sales come through Earth’s Creation and EC Sports online platforms, as well as direct sales to retailers and distributors.

One of our key strategies to enhance profitability is to concentrate on developing unique products that can be offered at higher margins. This focus on innovation allows us to differentiate ourselves in the market and capture additional value from our offerings.

What was your inspiration for starting the business?

Founding Earth’s Creation and EC Nutrition was one of the most challenging decisions I’ve ever made. It required taking a leap of faith into a venture without established customers or financial security. However, deep down, I knew it was a risk I had to take, or else I would have regretted it for the rest of my life.

While I remained committed to Earth’s Creation, unfortunately, my partners lost faith in the business and decided to move on. But, I had the conviction that I must stay with the business and dream. 

How and when did you launch the business?

I launched EC Nutrition just before facing potential downsizing at my previous company over 20 years ago, back in the year 2000. At the inception of EC, I partnered with three individuals: one specializing in sales, another providing financial support, and myself, bringing extensive industry knowledge. However, despite our initial enthusiasm, my partners grew discouraged after several months of minimal returns. Ultimately, I continued to pursue our vision alone.

After dedicating over a year to the venture solo, my former partners approached me, expressing interest in selling their shares. Legally obligated to purchase their stakes, I acquired full control of EC. With this transition, I aimed to nurture EC as a family-oriented business. Today, the majority of my family members are integral contributors to EC’s operations, embodying our shared commitment to its success.

How much money did you invest to start the business?

At the outset, we injected over $100,000 into EC, including contributions from my partners. This initial investment was pivotal in launching the brand, primarily by outsourcing manufacturing.

However, our transition into a fully-fledged manufacturer occurred in 2007 with the acquisition of Herbacure, a small plant based in Miami. To finance this acquisition, we secured a loan of approximately $250,000.

How did you find your first few clients or customers?

Our journey with our first major client, who remains a loyal customer to this day, began unexpectedly. We showcased our products in a flyer at a trade show in the Middle East. Intrigued, this client stumbled upon our flyer, prompting them to reach out and inquire about purchasing Earth’s Creation products. 

Since then, we’ve leveraged digital marketing strategies such as Google Ads and SEO to attract and retain large customers. Additionally, our presence at international trade shows like Arab Health has been instrumental in expanding our client base and fostering successful partnerships.

Tell us about your first year in business.

The first year of business was challenging. I initially balanced my job at FDC with building our venture until I was eventually let go. Making EC Nutrition my full-time commitment, it took nearly a year to turn a profit. During this time, I often worked more than 60 hours a week, all while shouldering the sole financial responsibility for my family, including my wife and our four children. I took on additional jobs, such as house painting to make ends meet.

It wasn’t until about two years into the journey that we started to see financial returns, largely thanks to securing our first major client from the Middle East. This partnership alone brought in over $300,000 within our first year of collaboration. During this period, my primary focus shifted towards exporting, recognizing its lower competitiveness and my familiarity with the registration process for products in international markets.

What strategies did you use to grow the business?

Acquiring Herbacure was a significant milestone for us. As manufacturers, we gained the ability to offer competitive pricing, leading to enhanced growth opportunities. Moreover, this acquisition enabled us to diversify our services, particularly in private label and OEM offerings, which now constitute approximately half of our total sales.

Another pivotal strategy has been our focus on exporting. Leveraging my familiarity with the registration processes in numerous countries, we capitalized on an advantage many supplement manufacturers lack. Collaborating with the US Department of Commerce through export programs further bolstered our international presence.

Also, investing in digital marketing via web development, SEO, and Google Ads has been instrumental. This approach has yielded over 15 long-term clients.

In recent years, we’ve focused on our sports brand, EC Sports. Promotional efforts through Facebook ads, local events, and partnerships with retailers have contributed to its heightened visibility and market penetration.

Tell us about your team.

Our team is a group of family members and trusted individuals who have been instrumental in our journey. My wife plays a crucial role in managing our accounting processes, offering support throughout every stage of our business.

Leading our sales efforts is my oldest son, who has significantly contributed to the expansion of our online presence over the years. Meanwhile, my other son specializes in formulations and product development, ensuring the quality and innovation of our products.

My daughter handles brand marketing and e-commerce initiatives and brings creativity and strategic insight to the team.

My brother serves as our operations manager, ensuring efficiency and smooth functioning across all aspects of the business.

In addition to family members, we have key employees such as Christian Gonzalez, who manages the purchasing of packaging, contributing to the seamless execution of our operations.

What are your future plans for the business?

My strategy for growing EC Nutrition and Earth’s Creation revolves around boosting our presence in the domestic market, both with our branded products and private-label supplements. To elevate our brand recognition, we’ll increase our efforts in online advertising and outreach to independent retailers. Additionally, attending trade shows across the US will showcase our services and products, leading to valuable partnerships, and expanding our customer base.

We remain committed to investing in research and development to drive innovation and introduce new products. This focus on continuous improvement and product diversification will attract new customers and strengthen loyalty among existing ones.

Earth's Creation Website

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned growing the business?

One of the most significant lessons I’ve learned is the importance of having faith and trust. Believing in one’s purpose, whether it’s starting a business, building a family, or pursuing any other endeavor, is crucial. I firmly believe that God has a plan for each of us, and having faith in that plan, even before we see it unfold, is essential.

Additionally, surrounding oneself with trustworthy individuals, especially family members, is invaluable. While people may come and go in our lives and businesses, having family members involved ensures a level of trust and loyalty that is hard to replicate. Even if a family member decides to leave the company, they are more likely to do so in a respectful and honorable manner, preserving the integrity of both relationships and the business itself.

What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome?

The most significant challenge I faced was during the early stages when EC Nutrition wasn’t generating revenue. Despite tempting job offers that would have alleviated the financial pressure of being my family’s sole provider, I decided to stay committed to Earth’s Creation. This period tested my resolve as I navigated the uncertainty of entrepreneurship, but ultimately, I stuck with my belief in the company’s potential and the vision I had for its future.

What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?

Focus on finding something you’re passionate about and that allows you to bring value to others through your services. Instead of chasing money, prioritize pursuing work that aligns with your interests and allows you to make a positive impact. When you’re passionate about what you do, success and financial rewards often follow naturally as a result of your dedication and commitment to your craft.

What is your favorite quote?

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat”  – Teddy Roosevelt

What are some of your favorite books, blogs, podcasts, or YouTube channels?

The Bible is my favorite book because it serves as a timeless source of wisdom and guidance for me. It offers insights into various aspects of life and spirituality that resonate deeply with me.

Additionally, I enjoy reading works by John Maxwell, whose writings on leadership principles and personal development complement the teachings found in the Bible. Together, these sources have greatly influenced and inspired me in both my personal and professional endeavors.


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